Raison D'etre - Mise en Abyme [Transgredient Records - 2014]Melodic dark ambient veteran Raison D'etre is renowned for his ability to create haunting gothic soundscapes both unsettling and indisputably pretty, which possess a remarkable ability to fill one's head with images of history, particularly Medieval Europe. He has created a steady string of albums since coming to prominence in the 90's, the latest of which is "Mise en Abyme".
We return to his classic feeling - that of standing alone in the ruins, a hushed desolation, faced with the crumbled glory of once proud civilizations, the fading hopes of dead generations. He has retained the nostalgic ethereal beauty of his melodic sense, and his knack for blending and layering of samples. Disembodied operatic fragments are muffled, crackled and arranged in a painfully lovely round with the distant sounds of strings.
The music here is formless or cloud shaped compared to previous albums, which had more distinct, MIDI sequenced melodies, and a more gestural approach. All 4 pieces on this album are cavernous and massively long: slow drifting somnolent wombs, cold and dry subterranean passages through fogged dimness, surrounded by the stifled moans of regretful ghosts. Anticipatory, tension filled chords are hinted with synthesizer pads and reverberant resonance, glimmering faintly in the backdrop, drawing the soundspace together in subtle harmony.
Andersson's production and sound design has greatly improved since the old days, when many a preset could be heard, and the space he has conjured this time has a deeper spacialization and liquid transparency by far than his classic records, but also seems to bear a bit less of his own personal stamp, as layered ambiguous drifts such as these have been created by countless artists.
In recent years I have come to prefer Herbst9 when I'm searching for music with this mood. He seems able to bring more vibrant exotic and diversified tones out of a larger variety of instruments, and create antiquated feeling classically inspired minimalist harmonies more naturally. His music has a clarity, direction and structure that Raison D'etre hasn't quite managed in murky records like this, which feels highly lethargic and perhaps best suited for partial consciousness / leaving consciousness. The softly repetitious flow of this album inevitably draws my energy level gradually down; it is difficult to focus on, and therefore inextricably bound to night listening, or as a compliment to an activity such as reading. However, if you do curl up with an ancient Greek epic and this album on your stereo, you may well experience a perfect moment of synchronicity.
In conclusion, this is another satisfying Raison D'etre album, but nothing that will change anyone's mind about dark ambient music or this artist, if they aren't already fans. In my mind, it is saved from overly depressive moping by its reverent spirituality, its respect for time in its incomprehensible hugeness. If I had to recommend one modern dark ambient masterpiece, it would be Herbst9's "Usumgal Kalamma", but any dark ambient fan could not go wrong with "Mise en Abyme".Josh Landry